As I planned my trip to Kiev, Ukraine, to attend the Euro Cup football final a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice how all the news I came across was directly linked to sustainability issues: the European Commission was boycotting the event because of the poor treatment of imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko; women’s groups were protesting the lack of government measures to control prostitution targeted towards football fans; and animal rights activists were outraged by the draconian measures taken by some Ukrainian cities to eliminate street dogs through portable incinerators.
Of course, these concerns are not limited to Ukraine, nor the Euro Cup. Countries campaign for years to win the nomination to host high-profile sporting events with the hope of attracting tourism and investments in infrastructure. Likewise, companies vie to win the bid to be the sole provider of media, food, or beverages at stadiums. However, it’s not the countries or companies who set the terms of engagement for corporate and government participation, but rather the organizing committees of the Euro Cup, Olympic Games, and other major sports events. For example, this disconnect was demonstrated by the world football association FIFA insisting that Brazilian stadiums sell beer during the 2014 World Cup, an activity that has been banned in the country for years.
We choose to participate in sporting events as spectators, sponsors, and partners, but what kind of due diligence are we undertaking both as individuals and collectively? As these types of events increasingly take place in countries with less transparency and more fragile governance structures, what should be the role of companies in creating sustainable partnerships and sponsorships? I don’t have easy answers. As a football enthusiast, I went to support my team, but as a responsible consumer and world citizen, I struggled to justify my participation.